In a recent article, the Texas Tribune published a troubling assessment in their ongoing series titled “Beyond the Data: A closer Look at Texas Schools.” The article reflected on the past 10-years of TAKS exams and highlighted some disturbing trends lurking below students “soaring” scores. True, last year 90% of students aced their 11th grade exit exams, an encouraging increase from the 70% who passed in 2003. But what do these numbers actually represent?
Unfortunately, student’s success with the state standardized tests has not translated to the national level. Scores on both the SAT and ACT have dropped or plateaued and Texas students remain behind the national average on both the SAT’s and the NEAP (except in 4th and 8th grade math). This calls into question what exactly the state standardized tests are measuring, or more importantly what skills the passing 90% are gaining. (Let us assume for the time being that standardized tests are an accurate measure of achievement and that using one standardized test to measure another is an effective means of assessing knowledge gained).
How do we explain these discrepancies? The Tribune article points out an important distinction between TAKS exams, which “gauge mastery of Texas curriculum standards” and national assessments like the SATs and the ACTs which “focus on higher order thinking skills like problem solving and reading comprehension”. But what good is mastering Texas curriculum if students are not learning to problem solve and think for themselves? What good will memorization be at the college level, or more importantly, in the real world? “We are still teaching too much stuff as opposed to teaching kids how to think and process,” says Timothy Jones, an education professor at Sam Houston State University. Jones goes on to state that until students “learn how to understand and find information on their own rather than memorizing straight facts” these discrepancies in state and national level tests will persist.
As a response, Texas is now moving to the STAAR exams (given to 3-9th grade students), which are designed to combine the teaching of “higher order skills” while still adhering to the Texas curriculum. But as our earlier post reveals, Texas state tests have been claiming to measure problem solving and critical thinking skills since the introduction of the TAAS exams in the 1990s. How then are we to believe that the STAAR exams will be any different?
One thing that continues to be disturbingly absent from this discussion is a closer look at testing in general. Is high-stakes testing an effective measure of achievement? And more importantly, are standardized tests a good measure of long-term success in college and beyond?
Stay tuned as we take a closer look at testing as we know it…..